2006 British International Motorshow at Docklands, London
This year's British Motorshow is by far the best in recent memory. Following awkward shows at Birmingham and Earl's Court, the Excel centre at London's Docklands lends itself extremely well to this new role. The unique waterside venue, coupled with the UK's exceptional weather have combined to make this one of the best motor show venues worldwide.
The manufacturers for their part have risen to the challenge, with attractive displays and comprehensive model ranges. Most recent concept and show cars are on display and several manufacturers used the show to announce new models including the Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, Mazda MX-5 coupé and the BMW M6 convertible. Ford also took the opportunity to showcase its new push for green credentials, with a stand almost entirely dedicated to Bio-Ethanol. Ford's interest in Bio-Ethanol is at odds with the wider industry which seems to be focusing on hybrid power systems in the short term and hydrogen based fuel cells in the long term. Concerns about the feasibility and genuine environmental benefits of bio-ethanol remain and we hope to see Ford's efforts leading to more than just eco-marketing in the future.
Pleasant surprises at this year's show include the Z-car by Rove and the presence of Renault and Mazda's recent concepts. The Z-car from Rove is a project still in fruition but aims to be a unique, flexible use vehicle with strong design credentials. The Z-car name refers to Zaha Hadid, the internationally renowned architect who is responsible for the aesthetic of the car. A working prototype is soon to be developed, followed by a series of other vehicles by different designers.
The BMW and Rolls-Royce displays were amongst the most adventurous, anticipating good weather to make the most of the stunning riverside location. Indoors, Ford brands led the way with significant announcements, including the launch of the new Freelander. The Freelander moves strongly in the direction of the other premium models in the Land Rover range and at least visually appears to be considerably bigger and a little fatter than its predecessor. The styling seems heavily dictated by the Range Rover and lacks the individuality seen in the latest Discovery. Land Rover made much of their apparently bouyent sales figures and, as with seemedly all manufacturers at the show, attempted to play up the green credentials of their operations, through carbon-offsetting. This seemed a little unconvincing but at least indicates an awareness of environmental concerns, especially surrounding the SUV market.
Eco-friendly motoring was certainly the unofficial theme of this year's British Motorshow, with Toyota pointing out that there is no 'C' in Prius - a reference to London's Congestion Charge 'C' logo. Despite the eco-hype, some of the celebrated green-credentials seemed rather cynical, with very little real attention paid to future propulsion issues.
[ Saab Aero X Concept ]
In design terms, the show featured several key concepts of the last year including the Nissan Urge, the Citroén C-Buggy and the dynamic Saab Aero X. The latter was possibly the best display of the show and was a merit to the overall GM stand. The 'Live Design Studio' was also an interesting part of the General Motors display with designers offering quick lessons in pencil and tablet sketching. This was one of the many small clues at the show that indicated manufacturers are valuing design and technology more highly than in the recent past.
In addition to the mainstream makes and models on show, there was also a significant showing of independent talent; the long tradition of small British sports car manufacture apparrently alive and well.
A vast improvement over events of the past, the British International Motor 2006 has succeeded in its aspirations to compare favourably with the other major European shows. Maybe in future years, the UK business environment will improve for automotive design and production and London will once again be able to host launches and announcements of real significance in 2008 and beyond.